The dawning of a new era for manufacturing and sustainability

A North Carolina sustainability event seeks to inspire manufacturers to run at peak performance

By Bill Holmes, P.E., Holmes Energy

On March 26, 2015, I was in Wilson, N.C., and I witnessed the "dawning of a new era."

During my entire 41-year career in the energy-conservation profession, I have experienced the ebb and flow of interest in conservation as the economy improved or receded, as energy prices went up or down, or as energy supplies were threatened. It was a short-term view based only on dollars with little thought of the future.

Even though energy conservation has always offered substantial economic benefits, most in top management have simply regarded energy costs as a nuisance, something the people in the facilities department were taking care of, a fixed overhead expense that you couldn’t do anything about, and/or a cost you just had to pay.

From across the Southeast United States, the men and women attending this event agreed on the need for sustainable practices and committed to reducing solid waste and conserving water and energy. For the very first time, I witnessed several hundred business and government leaders come together not only to express their concern for the planet’s health but also to articulate their resolve to improve and maintain it. I heard them emphasize the need for the long-term view of not only sustainable practices' economic rewards but also their positive effects on employees, shareholders, local and global communities, and future generations.

More than 100 years after Gilford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, defined conservation as "doing the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time," the participants at this event committed to doing just that.

Sponsored by the NCEast Alliance (www.nceast.org) and held at the Wilson Community College, this event, "Sustainability in Manufacturing: Sharing Environmental, Energy and Waste Reduction Practices," was the first in a series developed by WST Industries (wstindustries.com) through its unique specialty in Operational Sustainability. Its goal was to inspire manufacturers to run at peak performance while respecting the environments in which they operate.

Martin Crompton, the senior director of business development for WST Industries in Sanford, N.C., and the event moderator, welcomed the participants by saying, "There is an awakening in industry, certainly in the Eastern Alliance Area of North Carolina, as demonstrated by our attendance today of more than 200."

The program opened with remarks from John D. Chaffee, president/CEO of the NC East Alliance, and Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Van der Vaart said that, from his perspective as a representative of the state of North Carolina, meetings like this should provide a conduit for further improvement in day-to-day operations, a way to learn from other people’s experience – learning from companies that have found ways to increase production without increasing consumption.

He emphasized the financial benefits of reducing waste by saying that, “if sustainability makes sense from the bottom line perspective in private industry, why wouldn’t they be doing it anyway? This is just rational behavior. If a plant general manager isn’t interested in saving money, then he isn’t going to be a plant general manager very much longer.” He added that reducing waste is not only for cost reasons, but also it’s for actual environmental and sustainability reasons: Ultimately you are going to be happier, your employees will be happier, and your community will be happier.

Michael Darr, the plant manager of Bridgestone’s (www.bridgestone.com) 2.5-million-square-foot passenger tire plant in Wilson gave the keynote address. He spoke about the sustainability success stories at Bridgestone Americas and highlighted efficiency and sustainability programs that drive business success, reduce energy use, and reduce solid waste going to landfills.

Bridgestone’s corporate environmental mission statement reads as follows: "To help ensure a healthy environment for current and future generations, we are committed to continually working toward a sustainable society with integrity, and in unity with our customers, partners, communities and the world around us." Bridgestone’s Wilson plant was the first facility in the world to achieve both ISO 50001 (World Energy Certification) and Superior Energy Performance (SEP) Silver certification simultaneously, having demonstrated more than 15% energy reduction in the last 5-10 years.

Darr emphasized the need for information systems that would provide the information needed to make intelligent decisions and set priorities for reducing solid waste and water and energy consumption to make changes, get employees involved, document the results, and meet aggressive goals.

Among the achievements of the Wilson plant are:

  • Achieved zero waste to landfill in 2013
  • Reduced internal waste and scrap by more than 50% since 2002
  • Reduced 6% waste to under 3% in 2015
  • Increased fuel efficiency and improved tire wear life by 8% on their Ecopia Plus tire
  • The new Drive Guard tires eliminate the need to carry a spare, which reduces the weight of car and increases MPG
  • For every tire sold, one tire is recycled or repurposed (i.e. tires no longer go into rivers and landfills)
  • 14% of waste goes to waste to energy incinerator (WTE) and they are working to reduce that to zero

Following his talk, Darr and plant managers for nearby plants in North Whitakers and Greenville participated in a panel discussion. Each speaker emphasized their organization's corporate and plant-level commitment to sustainability.

Wim van Dam, the plant manager of the NACCO Materials Handling Group (www.hyster-yale.com/about-nmhg) plant in Greenville, NC, said that NACCO is a global manufacturer of material handling equipment with four plants in the United States and 13 facilities worldwide. He said that of 29 KPIs, six are environmental. Waste reduction is not only environmental, it is also cost reduction. If you eliminate waste you are better off in many ways.

The Greenville plant has an environmental, energy and sustainability committee that meets weekly to review energy use and determine how to do better the next week. The committee measures energy consumption in order to understand how to run better every day.

Van Dam said that the most important people are the people on the shop floor, as they are the ones who make the difference when it comes to waste reduction. He and his teams spend an hour a week in the factory discussing anything that can be improved from an energy-efficiency and sustainability perspective.

Calvin Balance is the plant manager of the Cummins – Rocky Mount Engine Plant in North Whitakers, NC, a 1.2-million-square-foot facility with 1,800 employees. The Rocky Mount Engine Plant was the pilot plant for Cummins (www.cummins.com) waste reduction, energy conservation, and sustainability efforts.

Balance said that they initially invested $250,000 and realized an 11-month payback, and that they are now saving $750,000 annually from their efforts. Their pilot program focused on key areas including:

  • Technical audits
  • Compressed air reduction
  • Installation of a monitoring and metering system to provide the information required for continuous improvement
  • An Energy Champions program to gain employee participation
  • Cummins committed to and achieved ISO 50001 and SEP requirements, and in 2014 they set objectives of reducing energy consumption by 25% and greenhouse gases by 27% by 2025; water usage by 33% by 2020; and solid waste to landfill to zero by 2020

Following the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience, including the following:

Question: What would be the top three things a company should do to get started?
Balance: Measuring.
Van Dam: Awareness. Benchmarking to measure improvements.
Darr: You must have your plant leader on board or you won’t go anywhere. Getting plant or corporate leaders involved will break down many barriers. Corporate sets goals and then we must turn them into real projects. What are our current levels, what is it going to take to meet the goals, and what projects are required to meet them?
Crompton: We are now seeing initiatives being driven from the very top. Many companies are setting goals for defined percentage reductions.

Question: You have talked a lot about saving dollars and cents from your programs. What other drivers are pushing you toward sustainability? Is there global consumer demand?
Balance: From our corporate responsibility perspective, it’s just the right thing to do. It’s cut and dried, just do what’s right for the environment.
Van Dam: For me, it’s waking up every morning and thinking the weather is changing. We need to do something.
Darr: We want to share what we have done with future generations and the community.

To learn more, watch this video of the event, or visit the NCEast website

Contact Bill: bill@holmesautopilot.com

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